Oliver Knight, a transgender man, is suing a Catholic hospital in Northern California after it cancelled his hysterectomy just minutes before the surgery was due to begin.
Knight was due to undergo the procedure on August 30, 2017, at St Joseph Hospital in Eureka, California. He did not want to travel for his hysterectomy, feeling that travel would increase the burden on himself and his family, and had chosen St Joseph simply because it was the only hospital in the area.
He had already experienced discrimination at the hospital prior to the cancellation of his surgery, with hospital staff misgendering him and telling him to wear a pink gown rather than a blue one because he was having “female” surgery.
After he had gone through three hours of pre-operative procedures, his surgeon, Deepak Stokes, arrived to inform him that the surgery was cancelled and would not be rescheduled.
When Knight asked Stokes whether the surgery had been cancelled because he was transgender, the surgeon said yes. Although the Catholic Church opposes “direct sterilisation,” Knight’s lawsuit states, the hospital regularly allows hysterectomies to be performed on cisgender women as a treatment for a variety of conditions.
The lawsuit points to Knight’s medical records, which show that the decision to cancel his hysterectomy was made following an ‘Ethics Assessment’ by David Groe, a reverend with no medical training.
The decision was in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding gender identity. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated that “‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. … Claiming that this is a civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.”
Knight had a panic attack when he heard that the surgery was cancelled, and was treated with anti-anxiety medication. Fifteen minutes later he was asked to leave and, according to the lawsuit, “was required to sit outside the Hospital alone, under the influence of medication administered by the Hospital, and experiencing a panic attack, until he was able to secure a ride home.”
“I still had booties on my feet as a nurse led me outside,” Knight has said. “I felt humiliated and queasy as I sat on the curb waiting for my roommate to pick me up.”
Attorney Jessica Riggin, a partner at Rukin Hyland & Riggin LLP, has said it was “discriminatory” for St Joseph Hospital to cancel the surgery. “This is a hospital that is open to the general public so even though it’s religiously affiliated, it’s illegal for them to turn away someone based on gender identity,” Riggin says.
Knight has since had a hysterectomy at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata. He has had to deal with “a lot of anti-trans bigotry,” he says, but did not expect such treatment from a hospital. As well as filing the lawsuit, he has written a blog post for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on his experience at St Joseph.
“It seems the hospital doesn’t understand how it feels to be treated inhumanely just because your body parts do not match your soul,” he says.
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